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World Music CD Reviews Africa


Published April 19, 2006

African Magic
Enja/Justin Time

Cape Town pianist-composer Abdullah Ibrahim relates that South African township dwellers considered Duke Ellington “a wise old man of our community in absentia.” Remarkably, a chance 1963 Zurich encounter so impressed Ellington with the younger pianist’s artistry that he quickly arranged Ibrahim’s recording debut. Forty years later, the kinship endures with African Magic, an extended suite recorded live in Germany in 2001. Belden Bullock (bass) and Sipho Kunene (drums) deftly complement the reflexive, powerfully suggestive silences that are Ibrahim’s musical signature. “Duke 88” is inimitable Ibrahim, but the stately tonalities are sublimely evocative of Ellington’s indomitable spirit. All but three compositions are originals (including “Pule” and “The Mountain,” instantly recognizable Ibrahim classics), plus two Ellington tributes (“Solitude,” “In A Sentimental Mood”) and a bluesy nod to piano legend Benny Moten (“Moten Swing”). Ibrahim conveys a deeply expressive affinity for his South African homeland, the vitality, warmth and soulful gospel feeling of immense joy tinged with yearning and sorrow. Tender fragments of Ibrahim’s poignant “Blue Bolero” percolate throughout, vividly converging with the album’s bittersweet closure.